Local school districts beefed up security Monday - and took steps to remind their school communities what security systems are already in place, as educators nationwide absorbed the enormity of a tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
In Maryland, Prince George’s County Police will have an increased presence in place at elementary schools Monday. Prince George's County Police Chief Mark Magaw said his department is monitoring the Newtown tragedy closely. The police train annually for "active shooter" events, including holding a mock active shooter event at a Prince George's high school in July.
Prince George's County Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alvin Crawley also announced Sunday that a moment of silence would be observed in the county's public schools at 10 a.m. Monday, and all flags would be flown at half-staff.
In Virginia, the Stafford County Sheriff's Office reported that it would "step up security efforts" at all the county's public schools beginning Monday. Sheriff Charles Jett wrote, "In light of the tragedy in Connecticut on Friday, our enhanced presence at the schools, thoroughout the day, is intended to reassure students, faculty, and parents of our commitment to ensuring a safe school day for all parties involved."
Over the summer, D.C. principals received active shooter training on how to call police and lock down students.
"Our schools know the protocols for how they should proceed when there is an active shooter," Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said. "We've got emergency plans and policies in place. We've got a visitor policy. But at the end of the day, you just have to be real about the fact that these things happen."
Modern schools have more security systems, but no system is 100 percent effective, Henderson said.
Fairfax County Public Schools said it is vigilant and pays a great deal of attention to security due to its proximity to Washington. FCPS shared its emergency preparedness plan with parents and employees, including the following measures:
- Coordination and emergency planning with Fairfax County police and fire departments
- Division-wide crisis management plan
- Individual school crisis plans -- updated within the last 12 months -- that include evacuation, shelter-in-place, and parent reunification plans
- Employee training in crisis management and communication
- Strict visitor controls, including required employee and contractor IDs
- Door access technology to aid in visitor control for all elementary and middle schools
- Fairfax County police officers, as school resource officers, present in all secondary, high schools and middle schools; school-based security staffs in all secondary, high and middle schools; and uniformed security staff patrolling all elementary schools during regular school hours and all FCPS facilities after hours.
"While no methodology is fool-proof, FCPS is fortunate to be in an area where the school division and the county work together to take every precaution in the event of an emergency," the district said in a press release.
Elsewhere in Virginia, the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office announced that it would conduct extra patrols in the area of schools for the "near future." County residents were reminded to report suspicious persons, vehicles, or activity to the appropriate authorities.
Loudoun County Public Schools is scheduled to meet with the County Sheriff's Office, as well as with the Leesburg, Purcellville, and Middleburg Police Departments early this week to review all school security procedures.
Alexandria schools Superintendent Dr. Morton Sherman issued a statement Sunday saying that "principals and staff will continue to monitor the conversations and climate in our schools in the days to come," but did not announce that there would be extra patrols.
In Maryland, Montgomery County police also planned increased patrols of schools.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools assured its community of its network of security procedures and practices in place.
“To be clear, there is no plan that guarantees 100 percent safety to all students and staff in our schools in every situation,” read a statement from AACPS. “We continue, however, to put in place proactive measures that are prudent and reasonable to protect students and employees.”
"We have invested heavily in technology such as video intercom systems at main entrances to schools, and in electronic visitor tracking systems, which allow us to detect registered sex offenders who may try to gain access.
"Front office staff must buzz in visitors to our school buildings. At our newest schools, there is a double-door system that prevents direct access from the front door to hallways where classrooms are located.
"All of our schools run periodic emergency drills to familiarize students and staff with what to do in a variety of situations ranging from tornadoes to active shooters in buildings. This month’s drill, ironically, focused on an active shooter in the building.
"Our partnerships with law enforcement, emergency response agencies, and health departments have resulted in increased resources and supports for our students and employees. County police, for instance, had officers at almost all of our schools at dismissal Friday and will endeavor to do so again for arrival on Monday."
Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose issued a statement Saturday telling parents to prepare for an increased police presence as Howard County Police would make "frequent checks around our school campuses." Foose added that members of student services staff would be on hand to provide support for students who were struggling to cope with the Connecticut shooting.
"Our schools take a comprehensive approach to ensuring that students have a safe and secure place to learn," read Foose's statement, which went on to list the following safety procedures:
- All schools have emergency plans in place, train staff and hold monthly safety drills, practicing responses to different emergency situations.
- All schools have security cameras that cover the main entrance.
- School visitors are required to sign in with the main office upon their arrival.
- School Resource Officers (Howard County Police Officers) are currently placed at all high schools and several middle schools. These officers also support elementary schools, as needed.